Monday, January 3, 2011

The ninth day of Christmas: A new year has begun


George is back at his spot as I arrive. I’m starting to think that his awareness that a church service is going to happen actually brings him back. Another chance to interact with people. There is so much garbage scattered around today that I only have time to clean up what’s actually ours.

As I’m sweeping the steps in front of George, he says “Yo, have you heard the fallout from the storm?

“What fall out?”

“People died. I mean people died. Old ladies, what not. No fuckin ambulances. People died.”

‘Where?” I had seen something in the news. Maybe a Post cover.

“Brookyn, Bronx.”

“I know it seemed like all they cared about was Manhattan. You live in the Bronx, right?”

“Yes, but I wan’t there. I was right here. They could send two ambulances for me. Drag me away to St.Lukes. Say I’m ‘at risk.’ Shit I wanted to be here. See if i could get through the storm. Be here for the worst. Take all it got. I have to practice. I have to be ready for when it comes, for when it happens,cause it’s going to. Nothing you can do to stop it...”

I see Holly arriving, so I tell George I need to finish the steps. Holly as usual has brought everything we need for a celebration of the day. Part of why put her in charge of Christian Ed years ago was because of her understanding of other cultures and her capacity to create events that teach even as we enjoy them.

She’s found a life size cutout of the Three Kings at an after Christmas sale. That goes on our door. Jim has brought our tall Christ candle over from SPSA. That will go on the steps in front of the Kings. There’s a gold cardboard crown around the Christ candle.

Inside, we’ve got crowns on every pew. And Holly’s remembered my box with small containers of gold, frankincense and myrrh. I’m responsible for communion. Today’s bread will be a bialy from Barney Greengrass.

Marsha has brought Kings’ bread she has baked herself. Holly has brought rosca de reyes and fruitcake. Whoever finds the baby Jesus in their piece of bread or cake will have to host a party on Candelaria. I’m making hot apple cider and Jim has brought coffee.

Another day colder inside as there’s a warmth outside. Whenever I look up and see the outlines of the kings at our doors,I feel they’re looking in on us, ready to enter. When Holly does the “time for children, “ we remember this day in years past. Our annual costumed processions. How in this congregation, it was this celebration that was our time for a “pageant,” not before. It helped Christmas last. We remembered our wise men and shepherds’ costumes. The years when we had both a Mary and an Elizabeth so two girls could walk in with baby dolls. The years we shared our celebration with SPSA and Arcadia bringing her very special family porcelain baby Jesus.

I talk about a week of snow and shoveling, the turning of the year and Three Kings and John’s In the Beginning. How a year ago we could not even envision where we’d be, all the things that happened. To be on the threshold of another year of what we don’t know yet. At the beginning of John’s Christmas story we see word and light. As Jesus was word of God in human form so we too are to see him together be the living word.

Likewise we’re called on to be light. I talked of beginning my New Year’s Eve at St.Luke’s doing last rites for a mother much younger than me. We’re always in a place where darkness and light coexist together. In our neighborhood of wealthy condos and forgotten public housing projects, in a highly secular neighborhood, we’re called to bring our own particular light, and to also celebrate it wherever we see it.

John also speaks of grace and truth. We can’t be word or light without understanding that we will fall short, we will miss the mark, we will not be perfect. That’s our tradition. Therefore we can’t judge. And we need to hear, know speak the truth no matter how hard that might be. Otherwise, no point. Word, light, grace, truth...those are the gifts of this second Sunday in Christmas, the first in the New Year.

We gather close together for communion. I think of the current installation of Peter Greenaway’s multimedia vision of Leonardo’s Last Supper at the Armory on Park. And my extended conversation with my son Dan about the Last Supper that followed. Da Vinci’s painting filled with tension, private conversations. I talk about this as we share our bread and juice together.

As we’re gathered for conversation, a woman walks in “just to look.” Tells us her synagogue, the Spanish-Portuguese, faced similar problems. Of the help given by the Landmarks Conservancy. And how accepting small gifts can lead to large. The man who gave her $36 led her to a gift of $5000. We’ve got s long way to go.

We evaluate the crafts fair and music festival. But our biggest need, our biggest concern is heat. How do we make that happen?

Before we leave, we bring in the Christ candle. Place a votive candle in front of the kings along with bags of small gifts and cups of hot cider. And a sign that says “Help Yourself, los tres reyes magos.”

Walking up the street, I see that the season of discarded Christmas trees has begun, even before the end of Christmas. Lying on top of piles of snow, their fragrance fills the air almost enough to cover the uncollected bags of garbage. I like that the city gathers them, mulches them, takes the mulch to that living organism Central Park and returns it to the earth around living trees. So I reflect on the cycle of these trees from Quebec to a long ride to a street in Manhattan to an apartment filled with people and their holiday season lives back to the street and then to Central Park. Not a bad lifecycle. I reflect on what it would be like to trace all the trees from Francois’ stand. Where all they went, the kind of families, celebrations, etc.

The protestors are back in front of Saigon Grill. A new year has begun.

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